HOLLYWOOD, Calif. Far from the glamour and glitz of the Hollywood stages that defined Kirk Cameron’s career from teen TV heartthrob into adult actor and movie producer, the former atheist stood in a South Dakota cemetery where a wholesome breeze tickled prairie grass as a handful of grief-stricken teens lowered their pal’s casket into the rich soil that sustained centuries of farmers and ranchers.
Like the others, Cameron had come to say goodbye to his 15-year-old friend, Matthew Sandgren, who, after battling cancer for two-thirds of his young life, had finally been healed by way of heaven.
“That was really, really hard for his family and for our family because Matthew really loved God, his family loves God and we love God, and we prayed and were just pleading with God to do a miracle and heal Matthew of his cancer,” Cameron said in a phone interview.
Now an evangelist who uses his CAMfam Studios as a platform to expand the Kingdom, Cameron admits Matthew’s death stung.
“It left me asking the question that millions of people ask: Where is God in the midst of my tragedy and suffering,” the actor said. “Why does God let bad things happen to good people? That is the question that has wrecked people’s faiths. It’s turned Christians into atheists. It shatters people’s hopes if they cannot answer that question.”
Even as he pondered those questions, Cameron decided to do what he knew best by capturing his journey on film. The result is “Unstoppable,” which will be shown Sept. 24 in about 700 theaters across the country through a one-day simulcast from Liberty University.
Cameron said the film project defies the traditional categorizing of a feature film or documentary.
“It really doesn’t fit neatly into either one,” the former star of the 1980s TV series “Growing Pains.” “I almost describe it as a visual diary, you write personal questions and things in your diary that’s only for you to read.
“This is me going on a very personal, transparent journey to discover the character and nature of God; of how a God of love could allow tragedy and suffering with people that He loves and He has the power to heal.”
The journey begins in Bison, S.D., where Matthew lived with his parents, James and Marci, and his older sister Kylee. The teen loved the Lord, the Green Bay Packers and sports, serving as student manager for his high school football team and was a member of the campus golf team.
“I go to my friend’s funeral and burial and watch his football team lower his casket into the ground,” Cameron said, adding that in the film he also recreates the creation of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, and Noah and the flood, tying it all to a God of grace and mercy.
Through the journey of grief and making the film, Cameron said his faith was strengthened in immeasurable ways by developing a heart of compassion.
“There’s no trials that are more painful than the trials of a mom and a dad who watch their children suffer,” he said. “As a father of six kids, I learned that tragedy and trialswhile painful at the momentreally produce things inside of you and your heart that nothing else can. I think that’s why the Bible says that we should consider it pure joy when we go through trials of all different kinds.
“What I’ve learned is that God is a God of purpose, He’s a God of love, He’s a God of power, and we can trust Him in his judgments and in His wisdom because He is good.”
Cameron admits that the concept of joy in suffering is a difficult one for most people to grasp, Christians included.
“Joy looks like a fully alive faith,” Cameron said. “When you are able to see the face of God through the eyes of faith, that produces joy. When you are able to see that God is in control and that He is lovingly steering all of your circumstances to result in your goodand you have to see that by faiththat produces joy. I think that that joy looks like the settled, confident faith that you are in the hands of an all-powerful, all-loving God.”
Too many times, he said, people get hung up in always needing to know the answer to why.
“You can look through all of history and you can see that some of the most tragic things that have happened, and at the top of the list would be the crucifixion of the most innocent man in the world, Jesus Christ, that resulted in the greatest thing that’s ever happened for you and me, it purchased our salvation and the forgiveness of our sin,” said the actor who also starred in the “Left Behind” film series and the popular marriage movie “Fireproof.”
Cameron said he decided to team up with Liberty University because of its four decade commitment to training young people to impact the world by educating ministry leaders, teachers, lawyers, business people, missionaries and, nowthrough its Center for Cinematic Artsentertainers.
“That’s one of my passions as well, so it’s a perfect fit,” he said. “If the world is going to be a better place it is going to depend on the young people in this world having the right view of God, of one another and have a plan on how to right the things that are wrong and fix the things that are broken in this world. I try to make movies that help people do that.”
In fixing what’s broken, Cameron said the best place to start is with parenting, which he laments as a lost art in today’s society. Too many parents, he believes, have placed their personal interests ahead of raising their children.
“They’ve abandoned their kids to be raised by counselors or coaches or churches or schools or friends or gangs or Facebook or the Internet, and we wonder why things seem to be spiraling into the toilet,” he said. “The answer, in my opinion, is to go back to God’s A plan. Children obey your parents. Parents train your children in the way they should go, invest your life into that like the world’s future depends on itbecause it does.”
Speaking to culture
Making movies that speak to biblical truth is not always popular or safe, as Cameron has experienced. Earlier this year, both Facebook and YouTube blocked viewer access to the “Unstoppable” movie trailer, labeling it “unsafe” and “abusive.” Access was restored a few days later after nearly half a million fans protested the move. Cameron has also faced personal attacks in recent years for his moral stands, including his opposition to gay marriage.
“It’s worth it,” he said about standing firm on his beliefs. “The goal is too important. That would be like asking Jesus if you know they are going to kill you why are you walking around healing people and telling them you are the Messiah?
“For you and me as Christians, we have come into this world to serve the King and to advance the Kingdom, and Jesus said all those who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. So it should not be a surprise when the world hates us, they hated Christ first. We shouldn’t go around being jerks and being obnoxious, but when we speak the truth and we speak it in love, they’ll still hate us because they love their sin and their darkness and they don’t want anyone telling them what to do. They just want to tell us what to do and what not to do. That’s to be expected in a world that is hostile toward the things of God.”
He admits there are times when feelings can get hurt or the ego is bruised by the comments.
“I think that we need to get some steel in our backbone and stop being afraid of those who make fun of us or try to shut us down and actually get in the game.”